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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - Coping With Grief

John Bradshaw - Coping With Grief

John Bradshaw - Coping With Grief
John Bradshaw - Coping With Grief

John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. In Matthew, chapter 13, you read a fascinating parable, the parable of the wheat and the tares. A man with a field of wheat discovers that somebody has sewn weeds among the wheat and has caused great damage and potential catastrophic loss. And when his servants came to him and spoke to him about the weeds in the field, he answered by saying, "An enemy has done this". That's Matthew 13 and verse 28. When God created the world, it was a perfect world. There was no sin, no sadness, no suffering, no loss. But an enemy came. And one of the consequences of the work of the enemy is grief. We were created to be happy forever. Grief is a foreign emotion to us, at least with regard to the way God created us. Yet we grieve; there is sorrow; there is loss. "An enemy has done this". How do you deal with grief? Unfortunately, it's one of life's inevitabilities. My guest today is Pastor Mike Tucker, the speaker and the director from Faith for Today, a media ministry. He's the host of Lifestyle Magazine, and for many years has conducted marriage seminars called "Mad About Marriage". Pastor Mike Tucker, thanks for joining me today.

Mike Tucker: It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you, John.

John Bradshaw: Now, unfortunately, when it comes to grief, you have firsthand experience. Recent experience. The sort of experience none of us want to go through. Explain briefly.

Mike Tucker: Less than six months ago, my wife of over 40 years, Gayle Tucker, passed away from pancreatic cancer. It was a brief illness; first symptoms March 3, put her in the hospital March 6, diagnosed March 16, and died April 10. So it's been a painful journey for me because she was my best friend, my partner in ministry. We did everything together, from pastoral ministry to chaplaincy to television ministry, seminars, preaching, you name it. We did it all together. And so to lose her has been just the most devastating experience of my life.

John Bradshaw: And this simply came from out of the blue?

Mike Tucker: Oh, yeah.

John Bradshaw: She was a picture of perfect health.

Mike Tucker: Perfect health.

John Bradshaw: No health issues.

Mike Tucker: No, you know, we pastored one church for 17 years. She did not miss one day from work because of health. Not one.

John Bradshaw: So this wasn't something you could prepare for.

Mike Tucker: No.

John Bradshaw: Emotionally or any other way

Mike Tucker: No. She played volleyball every week, and had for over 20 years with the same group of women. Diving on the floor, getting volleyballs, you know the "digs," they call them, you know. All sorts of things. Vibrant health, happy, energetic, until boom, all of a sudden these symptoms hit.

John Bradshaw: And along with that, with the loss, comes grief. Define grief for me.

Mike Tucker: Grief is an emotional, psychological, and physical reaction to any loss that is significant.

John Bradshaw: And anybody can grieve. I'm thinking the loss of a pet.

Mike Tucker: Yes.

John Bradshaw: And your 4-year-old little girl...

Mike Tucker: Yes.

John Bradshaw: going to have the hardest time adjusting to life without Fluffy.

Mike Tucker: I lost a Great Dane, who I'd had for 11 and half years, and I had to put her down because of arthritis in her back legs. And I loved that dog, and I, I cried over that dog. I grieved heavily for her.

John Bradshaw: So grief is something that's going to come.

Mike Tucker: Yes.

John Bradshaw: And it's going to be difficult, isn't it?

Mike Tucker: Yes, it is.

John Bradshaw: I think it's important people realize this. There's no shortcut around this, is there?

Mike Tucker: No. You cannot ignore it. You can't outwork it. You can't out -medicate it. The longer you put it off, the longer it will take and the more difficult it will be. The best thing is to grieve early; grieve intensely early, because that's going to have the best result. It may not shorten it, but it will lessen the overall symptoms and the severity of the process.

John Bradshaw: You had no time to prepare yourself for Gayle's death.

Mike Tucker: Unh-uh.

John Bradshaw: She was the picture of perfect health.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Your closest friend. And from out of nowhere came a devastating diagnosis. Now, what if this had been a lesser illness, but with the potential to become serious? One of these illnesses where, my goodness, if things don't go well we could lose her in five years.

Mike Tucker: Um-hmm.

John Bradshaw: Can you prepare ahead of time for grief? Is there anything you can do? Is there anything you should do, or do you just say, "There's no way that's going to happen, and should it happen, we cross that bridge when we get there"?

Mike Tucker: I think what everyone does at that point is, you anticipate the best and you work for the best. When it becomes worse, and then you begin to realize that you might lose them, is really the time, I think, for most people to engage in anticipatory grief. Alright, I need to prepare myself in some way for this loss.

John Bradshaw: How does a person prepare themselves for a loss and the grief that comes with it?

Mike Tucker: I think the first thing is to make sure that your relationship with that individual is clear: that you're happy together, that there's nothing between you, that anything you need to say "I'm sorry" for is done. That's the first step: to make sure that we're good. And then I think you start by, by reviewing the stories. Life review is what we encourage people to do who are facing their own death. So how has your life been significant? What are the stories? And then as you imagine what it's going to be like without that person in your life, allowing yourself to feel those emotions, and to grieve in anticipation of the loss, will also help you. But just putting the life in perspective and understanding, all right, there's a value to this life. And although we're going to lose this individual, there's been a value to their being here. There's been a purpose for this life. And that's helpful.

John Bradshaw: Now, grief came to you, and you have some inbuilt preparation, that is, you're a pastor. You've been a counselor.

Mike Tucker: Um-hmm.

John Bradshaw: You've worked in hospice, and you've shepherded people through these processes many, many, many times.

Mike Tucker: Um-hmm.

John Bradshaw: Did that help?

Mike Tucker: It helps in one sense. First of all, I know what to expect. It helps because I know that I'm not crazy. That's the most frequently asked question of people in severe grief. They'll share their symptoms with me: "Have I just lost my mind? Am I crazy"? However, knowing those things does not lessen my pain. It will not shorten the time. It may help me understand better how to deal and how to react to things without asking for advice, because I know how to give the advice. But it's not going to shorten the intensity of the pain. It's not going to shorten the time. So it doesn't help in that respect.

John Bradshaw: So a husband or a wife is going to lose a spouse.

Mike Tucker: Um-hmm.

John Bradshaw: Grief is going to come.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: What's guaranteed to come with that grief?

Mike Tucker: Well, first of all, there's going to be a sense of emptiness, loneliness. There may be, especially early on, and even continuing for months, the sense that it's not real. Like you've dreamed this. Like you want to pinch yourself. I still do that; it's been six months. So that's normal. Also, there's frequent crying. You may feel like there's a weight pressing down on your chest, difficult to breathe deeply. You'll find yourself sighing more frequently. You'll find a sense of, of sorrow and sadness, uh, a lost-ness. A loss of enjoying activities you used to enjoy before, you suddenly now take no pleasure in. Short-term memory is gone. Um, abilities to concentrate are gone. And just an overall feeling of depression and pain and sorrow that is intense. It's, it's a wonderful experience.

John Bradshaw: I'm sure. Now, that's going to last how long?

Mike Tucker: It varies from person to person. One to two years is the average for a significant loss. Uh, some people will experience that up to three to five years, depend, and not really be pathological with that. But you usually look for recovery, and that means the ability to think clearly again. Maybe it's not the first and last thing on your mind every day. You'll still cry and feel sad and feel the sorrow, but be able to function more normally after one to two years. And then that's when we talk about recovery.

John Bradshaw: There's no question when it comes to grief, this is the work of the enemy. "An enemy hath done this". But we'll come to the Bible, and we'll discover that there is a way through. There is a way through grief, and we can thank God for that. I'll be back with more with Pastor Mike Tucker in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. With me my good friend Mike Tucker, who is a pastor, and an author, and a television presenter, a counselor, a chaplain. Mike, you've kind of done it all.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: We're talking today about grief. You have, unfortunately, a close-up, first-hand experience with grief. And it's something everybody can relate to, or will relate to. We hear a lot about the stages of grief. Walk us through those and tell us how they apply to a grieving situation.

Mike Tucker: The stages of grief, it depends who you're reading. Some people say there are four, another five, another seven, and another twelve. And all of them tend to think that you go through those stages in order. Well, those may be helpful for a lot of people; I've never found them to be helpful. So it depends on who you read. But if it's helpful for you, use it. For me, instead, I usually think about goals of grief.

John Bradshaw: The goals of grief?

Mike Tucker: Goals of grief. Grief has a purpose. And as you accomplish goals, you walk your way through it. And then there are four activities of grief, which I'll mention later. But the first goal of grief is to believe that it actually happened. And again, you may, you may deal with this and have to revisit that all the way through the journey. Because there are times when I wake up, after six months, and I still have to remind myself that this is real.

John Bradshaw: A friend of mine was a chaplain for a police department

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: He'd tell me about having to go and break the news to people: your husband has been killed in a terrible accident. He told me it was really interesting that you go and tell people this, and they just flat out refuse to believe it.

Mike Tucker: Right.

John Bradshaw: He spoke about one lady. He had to put her in the car, drive her to the accident scene, and say, "This is where it happened". Still wouldn't believe it.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: So, so that's, that's a thing huh?

Mike Tucker: You cannot, you cannot grieve a loss you do not accept. And so the process is stopped until you accept it. Yes, I believe this has really happened. The truth is that if you live in denial long enough, eventually you can come to the point where you almost never get back, or it's very difficult to get back. And so the sooner you accept the reality of it, the better for you. So that is the first goal, is to believe that this really happened. And again, the fact that you, you have times where you doubt it again, but you bring your mind, that doesn't mean that you haven't accomplished this goal. You just have to re-accomplish it. So that's the first goal, is to believe that it really happened. The second goal is to be willing to experience the pain. Uh, some people will try to outwork it, or ignore it, or stuff it. Some people will out -medicate it, or out-drink it. Eventually the pain's going to come and get you. If you deal with it early, it's better than if you deal with it late, because when it comes back late, it will come back in, in spades. So it'll be even harder and more difficult.

John Bradshaw: But isn't it right to try to get rid of the pain? I mean, that's what we do. No one goes into surgery without anesthetic, and the first thing you do if you have a headache is take a Tylenol or some such thing. So wouldn't that just be a natural thing to say, I've lost a pet, a grandparent...

Mike Tucker: Yeah, yeah.

John Bradshaw: ...a spouse, a child. It hurts like crazy. I want to get rid of the pain.

Mike Tucker: Yeah. Well, the truth is, you can, you can help with that. There are medicines that can help, and some people will use those, and that's fine. I don't think there's a shame in that as long as they're used as, as prescribed.

John Bradshaw: Well, now, I'm not specifically referring to medicines.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: But wouldn't you want to find a way out of this pain? You're saying...

Mike Tucker: Absol...everyone wants to find a way out.

John Bradshaw: What you're saying is, really, you ought to kind of confront this and live with it.

Mike Tucker: Yes, That's right.

John Bradshaw: There's no way around it.

Mike Tucker: The only way through grief is, indeed, through it. You can't, you can't outrun it. And so, my personality is such that I don't want to be the victim. And so since I know I have to go through it, I initiate contact with it. That means that I will force myself at times to think about memories of her that are painful, and those that are joyous. I, I got back in the pulpit for the first time, sooner than, perhaps, some would have thought was advisable. But I knew I needed to do this.

John Bradshaw: What was it like?

Mike Tucker: It was very painful. I had to steel my mind and be, be prepared for the possibility. I went over the danger points in my sermon where I might lose it. and I

John Bradshaw: You prepared ahead of time.

Mike Tucker: Yes, I did. I prepared for that. And so I, and I bathed myself in prayer, and then just stood up and delivered. And I got through it.

John Bradshaw: Now, you and Gayle, for years, have hosted television programs.

Mike Tucker: Yeah, yeah.

John Bradshaw: Excellent program. And you've gone back into the studio without her...

Mike Tucker: Yes.

John Bradshaw: film those programs now, with a team, but on your own.

Mike Tucker: Yes.

John Bradshaw: What was that like?

Mike Tucker: Extremely painful. Extremely painful, because she should have been there.

John Bradshaw: Yeah.

Mike Tucker: We worked together as a team so long that we would anticipate what the other was going to say, and when they were going to say it, and who was going to ask the question next. We didn't have to give each other signs. I miss that on a professional level, but I just missed her, and her laughter, and her joy, and her comfort, being there with me. Because that was always a team activity; it was a team ministry. So that was very painful.

John Bradshaw: What's really fascinating here is that as an author, a teacher, a preacher, a television presenter, you knew the pain that you were going to experience by doing it. Yet you chose to do it anyway.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Now, was that the, was that the healthy thing to do, or was it just the stubborn thing to do?

Mike Tucker: It can be healthy, maybe it's stubborn too, because I am stubborn. But I do think that, that there's a health to it if, indeed, you think you're ready for the next step. I stretch myself, and I lean into the pain. If I put it off, it's going to be harder and harder for me. And so I try to initiate things. I've gone to favorite vacation spots without her, just to initiate that. Restaurants where we've eaten together.

John Bradshaw: Now, that's interesting, because you got a couple of guys who are friends, they go fishing every Sunday.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: You'd say to that guy, "Go fishing".

Mike Tucker: Go fishing.

John Bradshaw: Yeah?

Mike Tucker: Don't do it right away. Wait until you think you're ready, but initiate that. Go back. A misconception is to think that to honor this life, I never do those things again. That's kind of building a monument to them, and it restricts your life. But I want to honor Gayle's life by continuing to do the things that we did together. One of the last things she said to me was "live our life. Live our life". That meant faith, it meant family, it meant ministry. But I think it further means, continue to live with the joy that we had. So I've gone to those vacation spots. I've gone back to the studio. I'm trying to write again, but I can't concentrate like I, I used to be able to. So that's been a painful experience for me; I'm just not able to do it yet. Some things you can do and some things you can't.

John Bradshaw: But you anticipate that sooner or later you'll be able to do that.

Mike Tucker: Yes. I will do that again.

John Bradshaw: Let me ask you this: you probably just answered the question, but, um, let's say, for instance, you used to love to go to the store and get an ice cream sundae.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Yeah. And so now you go to the store, and you get an ice cream sundae.

Mike Tucker: Um-hmm.

John Bradshaw: Do you feel guilty that you're enjoying this pleasure but she's not there, and so maybe I shouldn't? Do you, because people wrestle with this.

Mike Tucker: Yeah, they do.

John Bradshaw: So I'm asking you, is that, is that a thing?

Mike Tucker: It's a real thing. And it's not something that I've had; I just feel, for me personally, I just feel her absence and, and that sorrow. But other people feel guilt over this, kind of a survivor's remorse.

John Bradshaw: What should they do about that?

Mike Tucker: I think that the best thing to do about it is to still lean into it, and remind yourself that this is what that person would want you to do. As long as you have life, live it. And now this becomes the new tribute to them. One tribute is to grieve and to weep, and to withdraw to some degree. And you may do that for a time. Eventually, you need to initiate contact with the pain, and lean back into life, and that becomes the new tribute to them. So as I engage in that process of being willing to experience the pain, it means I'm, I cry, I think, I talk about the experience. But I also initiate the experience. For me, that's, that's a better way of dealing with it. Not every personality's the same. But for me, leaning into it and anticipating the next first, and getting there as soon as I can, has been helpful for me.

John Bradshaw: As long as you have life, live it. I'll be back with more from Mike Tucker in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. My guest is Pastor Mike Tucker from Faith for Today. And Mike, as we discuss grief, looking at the, the goals of grief, what were those first two again?

Mike Tucker: Believe that it really happened is the first one. To be willing to experience the pain is the second one. The third one is to make adjustments to daily life without that person in your life. Now, for me, that means learning to cook, or finding cheap restaurants. It also means finding a new confidante. Whatever it may happen to be, there have to be adjustments to life, daily life, without that individual.

John Bradshaw: That becomes really practical, doesn't it?

Mike Tucker: Very practical. That's where the rubber meets the road. And you have to do those things. That's inescapable.

John Bradshaw: After my dad died, my mother had to try to figure out who was going to change the light bulbs.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: And get up high, and these kinds of things. And that's, that's an adjustment, isn't it?

Mike Tucker: All of those things are a part of this whole process, and that's a big deal, especially when someone has been involved with your life as Gayle was with me for 40 years. We did everything together. But, you know, there are still certain things around the house that she did, and it was divide and conquer.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Mike Tucker: I got no one to divide with anymore, you know? It's all me. And so I have to figure out how to do the things that she used to do. Uh, it may mean any number of things, but you make those adjustments to daily life without this person in your life anymore. Uh, that's, that's reality; it's painful. You make the adjustments, but I'm also leaning into that pain. I learned how to get through her, her birthday the first time without her. That's an adjustment. My daughter just, my oldest daughter, just had her birthday. That's an adjustment, getting through that birthday without Momma being there. I may keep some old traditions, and I may form some new ones. I don't know yet.

John Bradshaw: Forming new traditions.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Isn't it denial of the past?

Mike Tucker: Not necessarily. I remember one lady, when her mother died, it came Thanksgiving time. The house was empty; her mother's house was empty. And they always went there because it was the law of the Medes and the Persians: you ate at Momma's house for Thanksgiving. And Momma kind of ruled with an iron fist. So it came up to Thanksgiving; she said, should I go, should I have the family go back and eat there in that house? I said, absolutely not. It's time for a new tradition. The old tradition was fine while it lasted. Some things may stay the same. But some things will change, and you need to form that new tradition.

John Bradshaw: And people ought to feel comfortable about taking the responsibility for making those decisions and feeling good about it.

Mike Tucker: Yeah. It's all right. And, in fact, you may make a bad decision. Okay. Go back and do it again a different way next time.

John Bradshaw: Okay. Fourth stage, or fourth goal.

Mike Tucker: Fourth goal is to be willing to say goodbye to the relationship as it used to be. Withdraw the emotional energy and reinvest it elsewhere. I say goodbye to that portion of our relationship, maybe one at a time, and withdraw that emotional energy that I'd invested in that, and eventually find a place to reinvest. Now, the healthy reinvestments are going to have to do with God, with other people, and with service, and with giving, rather than just in something that's about me, self-centered or myopic. I want a broad, purpose for life. And so I find a way to reinvest. I may do it in volunteerism. I can reinvest in my family, my children, my grandchildren. That's a part of the reinvestment, and that's okay. Some people will reinvest in a new love. That may or may not happen for me. It certainly shouldn't happen until a couple of years down the road for anyone. Anyone. Men are more likely to remarry quickly. I have no idea if I ever will. It's not anything I want to consider yet. It's not on my radar yet, and it may never be.

John Bradshaw: Let me ask you this: what should someone do, or not do, to help somebody else who's grieving?

Mike Tucker: Don't try to fix it. That's the number one thing. When, people want to make me feel better, because we're not comfortable with pain in western society. I may express pain, and they'll come back with a "yeah, but". You know, the "yeah, but" I already know. You're not going to help me with the "yeah, but". I'm beyond being cheered up. It will help down the road, and I know that to be true. I know that this is not goodbye; it's goodnight. I will see her again. But trying to cheer me up with the "yeah, but" is not helpful. Trying to push me through it too fast is not helpful. It's been six weeks; shouldn't you feel better by now? No, I shouldn't. I've scarcely started by now.

John Bradshaw: People say those things, don't they?

Mike Tucker: Yes, they do. Yeah, they do.

John Bradshaw: Wow.

Mike Tucker: There's a book that I mentioned to you off air. It's entitled "Don't Ask For the Dead Man's Golf Clubs". It's a great title!

John Bradshaw: What a title.

Mike Tucker: But, you know, it's really a list of all the things we do that kind of mess people up when we're, quote, "trying to help" in grieving. But I think coming alongside and just listening to the stories. Bringing Kleenex and being comfortable with someone's tears, and not trying to fix them. Don't try to cheer them up. Listen and be empathetic with them, and let them work through that process themself. If they ask you to cheer them up, that's fine. I think what most people want is just someone to know that, yes, this hurts, and I'd ,I'll be happy to listen to your stories, but I will be there for you.

John Bradshaw: Grief is all part of this great battle that's raging in the universe between righteousness and sin.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: As we wrap up, tell me how your faith in God has been a practical help to you as you grieve over a devastating loss.

Mike Tucker: We mentioned that the four activities of grief in the previous session were think, talk, write and cry. And I would like to add to that a fifth one, and that is pray. Even at times when you've had a loss, it feels like God is not there, that you're talking to an empty ceiling, pray anyway. It helps you organize your thoughts, and it, and it still pours out your heart to the only one who can fix it for you. And so I pray. Grief has made that, made me even more keenly aware of the necessity for my faith in God. Some people lose faith because they get angry. I'm not angry, because God has not withheld any of his promises, any of his blessings. He's a comfort. He's a strength. He cries with me. And eventually he will dry my eyes.

John Bradshaw: Amen. There's one verse I expect you've read again and again.

Mike Tucker: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Tell me if this is a help. The Bible says in First Thessalonians, chapter 4, "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord will by no means proceed those who are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord". And verse 18 says, "Therefore, comfort one another with these words". Mike, the Bible doesn't say those words take away our pain.

Mike Tucker: No, it does not.

John Bradshaw: But it does say they offer comfort.

Mike Tucker: Yes.

John Bradshaw: Do they offer you comfort?

Mike Tucker: They do, because I know that what I've said is not goodbye; it's goodnight. I will see her again in the morning. And that brings comfort. Surprisingly, it brings varying degrees of comfort at different phases.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Mike Tucker: There are times when it's not particularly comforting. But overall, I know those things to be true. And long term, yes, it brings comfort; it brings hope. Because I grieve, but not as those who have no hope, as we are counseled. I know that my Lord is coming, and when he comes Gayle will rise, because her faith was in him. And I will see her again. That is great hope. It's not goodbye; it's goodnight.

John Bradshaw: You know, more than I know, that what you've shared today is going to be an immense help and a comfort to countless people. Thanks very much. Let's pray together.

Mike Tucker: Sure.

John Bradshaw: Our Father in heaven, we are grateful that the Bible declares that you are the God of all comfort. And there are times in our experience where we wrestle with emotions, and hurts, and losses and joys that we don't really know how to process. We need your help. And so thank you for being our help and our stay and our strength. And friend, as, as I pray now and you're dealing with perhaps, a loss, perhaps grief, perhaps just difficulty of some type in your life, are you willing to say to Jesus, "Lord, I'm willing to let you carry me through"? Friend, don't give up. Don't quit. Don't fall back. Are you willing to continue to say, "I'm placing my faith and trust in you"? Heavenly Father, take our hearts. We're not even sure most of the time how to give them. Maybe we cannot. But we can ask you to take them, and keep them, and minister to our hurts and our confusions and our lack of understanding. Give us grace to trust you now and always. And we look forward to that wonderful day when Jesus returns. In Jesus' name, Amen.
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